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The Michelangelo Lamp

February 29, 2012


The work I researched for this blog is known as the “Michelangelo Lamp”, produced by Josiah Wedgwood around 1780. Wedgwood was a revolutionary of ceramic mixtures, creating the popular, colored pottery “jasperware”, as well as the more utilitarian earthenware that introduced low-cost, easily produced ceramics. He had a keen interest in High Renaissance and Classical styles (his and the “Michelangelo Lamp” is a perfect example of that.

The lamp’s composition can be broken up into two main sections (not including the shade): three figures arranged in a pyramidal form at the base, and a bowl being supported (lifted) by the three figures. At the top of the bowl is a palm tree where three women sit in the shade, and beneath them three shells rest on a ledge. The most obvious nod to Renaissance art is this use of pyramidal layout (and the unit three in general) as well as the figures. Considering Renaissance artists’ interest in Classical art (and the influence it had on the period’s visual style), it is expected that 18th century Neoclassical artists had the same interest.

The most interesting thing I encountered when researching this piece, is the amount of copying that occurred in the production of this piece. We’ve learned throughout this class that casts were often taken and pieces reproduced by workshops and guilds due to lack of copyright laws. The bowl that the three figures support was taken from a Hellenistic era bronze lamp dated around 400 BC. In fact, Wedgwood used this same bowl in many other tripod lamps he produced. The figures at the base were also copied from a silver-gilt crucifix by Antonio Gentile de Faenza produced in the late 16th century. Demonstrating just how wide-spread the practice of copying/replication used to be in the arts, Antonia Gentile de Faenza as well used casts from other artists and had models of Michelangelo’s in his workshop (which is why this piece is thought to have originally been referred to as the ”Michelangelo Lamp”).

If the majority of this lamp (and nearly all of Wedgwood’s pottery) is strictly the assembling of other artists’ design components, then why did Josiah Wedgwood gain so much recognition? As I learned from my research, Wedgwood even had a group of artists stationed in Rome that would send designs back to the pottery factor in England (this group may have been responsible for the design of this lamp in fact). What brought Wedgwood his success was his acceptance of the changing market for decorative pottery/ceramics. He was an accomplished chemist, and crafted mixtures that were low-cost and efficient. He arranged his workshop into separate, specialized factions that increased efficiency and all-around designed pottery to be mass produced. It was his attention to the business and production-side of the trade that allowed him to grow prosperously.


Sources Used


A Renaissance Work Copied by Wedgwood

Jennifer Montagu

Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes , Vol. 17, No. 3/4 (1954), pp. 380-381

Published by: The Warburg Institute

Article Stable URL:


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  1. I was unaware of the use of casting and assembling from previous works that went on with Wedgwood’s work but it really seems relevant to modern sampling in Hip Hop music and Video installations I have seen as well as a lot of the early twentieth century collages… I think it is pretty exciting to find an historical reference as succinct as this to modern art forms that I had assumed were just “liking and lifting”. I understood that painting and sculpture borrowed technique and imagery and were even teaching by copying the masters but it does put forward the question of whether the artist needs to have created every aspect of their art with their own hand and whether or not this should come into play as to how they are perceived in the context of art history.

  2. I like that you emphasized how jasperware was mass produced. This efficient mass production really helped Josiah Wedgwood’s work to be popular. Remember when we learned about how Dürer was popularized through the mass distribution of his prints? The same thing can be said for Josiah Wedgwood (though I think that Dürer achieved more international fame and renown than Wedgwood).

    -Prof. Bowen

  3. Suzette Johnson permalink

    In the pottery classes I have taken,we were encouraged to find a piece of art we liked and replicate its style. Maybe that was the same idea here with borrowing ideas from other art? I’m not sure. His intuition to supply a less expensive product in higher volume just adds to the genius of this artist. Even having a group artists sending him research from Rome was an ingenious idea. You would need that kind of help to speed production.

  4. I thought it is interesting that he copied other peoples pieces. Like Suzette said In my ceramics class we are encouraged to look at other peoples piece for idea but, are not encourage to just plan copy them. It is true that there was no copy write laws so at this time it would not matter. I find it interesting that we have come so far from them just as far as copy write laws.

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